The silvery blue ring of Enewetak Atoll appeared to float quietly atop an azure sea in mid-January, 2013. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying aboard NASA’s Terra satellite passed over the northern Marshall Islands on January 13 and acquired this true-color image of the large coral atoll. In this atoll, a necklace of small islands, with total land area of less than 5.8 km2 (2.3 mi2), surrounds a deep central lagoon.
The Enewetak Atoll forms the second westernmost atoll of the Ralik Chain of the Marshall Islands, and consists of about 40 islands. The number of islands has varied over time, as many of the small islands are ephemeral, and may rise or disappear, primarily due to the effect of storms. Also, two islands and a part of a third were destroyed due to nuclear explosions. Forty-three nuclear tests were fired at Enewetak from 1948 to 1958, when the island was part of the Pacific Proving Grounds under control of the United States. The Marshall Islands became independent in 1986.
Besides becoming part of a nuclear proving grounds, the Enewetak Atoll played a unique role in marine biology, with over a thousand scientists, assistants and graduate students studying the atoll as part of the Mid-Pacific Research Laboratory from 1954-1984. For many, this was the first opportunity to study the biota and ecosystem of a coral atoll.